Thursday, March 30, 2006

Editorial of the day


a.The totality of socially transmitted behavior patterns, arts, beliefs, institutions, and all other products of human work and thought.
b.These patterns, traits, and products considered as the expression of a particular period, class, community, or population: Edwardian culture; Japanese culture; the culture of poverty.
c.These patterns, traits, and products considered with respect to a particular category, such as a field, subject, or mode of expression: religious culture in the Middle Ages; musical culture; oral culture.
d.The predominating attitudes and behavior that characterize the functioning of a group or organization.

How should we define culture? That is what I took from Jonathon Zimmerman's editorial today, "Culture wars: Beware of presuming sameness".

Zimmerman begins with an example:
"I don't remember her name. But I can still picture my sixth grade student's frightened expression when I asked her to give the first classroom presentation that morning.

"Where I come from," she said, in a quivering voice, "girls don't go first." She was an immigrant from a Muslim country in the Middle East whose family had moved to Baltimore a few years earlier. I was a young social studies teacher at her middle school, fired with passion and idealism. I believed in my heart that schools should respect national differences. But I also believed that we should treat boys and girls in an equal fashion.

So how should I have responded?

I would have used it as an opportunity to explain culture to the class. How often in our classroom lives are we presented with such a stark cultural contrast? As he stated later:
"And that brings us back to my young student. I'm not proud of this, but I let her go second. Today, I'd turn her objection into a set of questions. When you say "girls don't go first" in your homeland, what do you mean? Who agrees with this idea? Who doesn't?"

I would have added the all-important question: Why?

One aspect of culture which is not addressed by Zimmerman is the individual. "These patterns, traits, and products considered as the expression of a particular period, class, community, or population" belong to a group of individuals. They are common "patterns, traits, and products" that are shared by a group of individuals. The individuals share these things willingly, and in many cases unquestioningly.

The world is filled with different cultures, just as it is filled with different individuals. But which is more important: culture or individual?

I could write a book about the interplay between culture, religion, and legal systems, but culture transcends the other two because of one factor: the individual acceptance of it. An individual can change religions. Laws change constantly (and can be broken by individuals). But it is truly rare to find the person who can throw off the shackles of the culture with which they were raised. They may deny parts of it, but the majority of it sticks with them.

On the other hand, the fact that individuals can determine how they deal with their cultural values shows where the true importance is. Inevitably, the individual can determine the culture. By the laws of evolution, the individual MUST determine the culture. If a cultural value does not enhance an individual's ability to survive, then the cultural value must be changed, or ignored.

My point is this: Our democratic culture is needed in the Middle East. Islamic culture has held back the people of the Middle East for far too long, by making them tolerant of totalitarian rule. I will not say that all aspects of Islamic culture are responsible for this. However, until we can change enough of it to make democracy palatable to the Muslims, they will remain in their static culture, continually resenting the West for it's successes, without ever seeing how Western Civilization got to where it is.

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